|Bullard Book is a Belting Read|
Written by Superfrans on Thursday, 29th May 2014 09:41
How you view Jimmy Bullard in an Ipswich Town shirt will depend on what period you remember most clearly - the loan spell in which he scored a series of spectacular goals and helped pull us clear of relegation or the season on a permanent deal when he was a bit part player at best.
How you view him will also dictate how keen you are to read his autobiography, Bend It Like Bullard, which is out this month - and comes highly recommended from this particular Town fan.
For a few short months in 2011, Jimmy Bullard was the biggest folk hero Portman Road had seen in years. After 16 matches and three months in the Ipswich team, he was voted player of the season. Damn, we even had a chant for him - and Planet Blue started stocking Bullard wigs and T-shirts.
It all went wrong the following season. Signed permanently that summer, after some delay, he never replicated his initial impact (as Paul Jewell's second season failed to live up to the promise of that initial end of season lift) and he was released in summer 2012.
I have to declare an interest. I loved Jimmy Bullard the Ipswich Town player, After several years of grim, functional football under Roy Keane, Bullard was a breath of fresh air - a player who clearly enjoyed playing football and who had the imagination to try the outrageous. As a result, his showreel of ITFC goals stands scrutiny alongside anyone's of the past 20 years.
Bend It Like Bullard is a reflection of this enthusiasm and love for the game. I read it immediately after reading Andrea Pirlo's autobiography I Think Therefore I Play and they could not be more different, as books, as players and as people.
Where Pirlo's is bordering on the poetic (and almost annoyingly so), Bullard's matter of fact, cheeky tone of voice strikes through his story. This can be grating, but is mostly bearable and doesn't overshadow his pretty incredible story.
Bullard's back story is fascinating, as he progressed from non-league player to pro football at the advanced age of 20, to successive promotions at Wigan, big money moves to Fulham and Hull and those almost crippling knee injuries. Bullard clearly thinks he was one of the luckiest men on earth to play football for £45,000 a week (as he did at Hull) – just 10 years after earning £60 a week as a semi-pro at Gravesend.
It is hard not to have huge respect for a player who came back after his career was almost finished by the age of 27, were it not for fundamental reconstructive surgery - as Bullard puts it, a tackle with Scott Parker almost literally left his right leg hanging off below the knee, his knee having been dislocated and three out of the crucial four ligaments “wrecked”, as Bullard puts it.
Indeed, Bullard comes across (on the whole) as an extremely likeable fella, someone who perhaps should have taken his career more seriously at times. But BILB also gives some interesting insights into his time with us however.
Brought in by Jewell ("my fairy godmother", as Bullard puts it), he recalls the climate of fear left in the dressing room post-Keane, and the resultant terrible team spirit - in stark contrast to the excellent spirit which existed in his successful spell at Wigan. Among the anecdotes which he picked up included one occasion when Keane executed a two-footed tackle on the tactics board after a particularly disappointing defeat and declared, "that's what tactics mean - f*** all in this game".
Bullard clearly loved his opportunity to play again after being frozen out at Hull (where every match would cost the club £5,000). The Town loan spell brought "my last, really consistent, sustained run of good form", admits Bullard, who uses the book to talk through his various goals and his surprise at being voted player of the year.
After remaining a free agent into the summer, QPR's Neil Warnock showed brief interest, but starting the new season badly, Jewell responded to sign Bullard permanently. As we all know, his permanent deal failed to live up to the promise of that loan spell however.
As Bullard remembers it, he was initially played by Jewell on loan in an attacking role at the top of a midfield diamond - but in his full season was deployed at the base, in front of the back four, with Andrews and Bowyer allowed to do more of the attacking ("so he [Jewell] wanted to fit everyone in"). It was a tactic which worked less to his strengths, hardly surprising in hindsight for a player who had spent much of the rest of his career in central midfield or right flank.
"Obviously, I preferred to play in my normal position," Bullard recalls in the book, "and I was a bit upset about it, but I had to be professional, get my head down and get on with it... I was just happy to be playing again."
Through this season, Bullard also became friends with Michael Chopra, and retells the story of when a "gangster" to whom he owed money came to Playford Road, with Jewell also receiving a call threatening to "come to see you" if the debt wasn't paid. Soon after the club paid off the debt via "a huge loan" to Chopra.
Chopra's inability to take his betting problems seriously come clearly through BILB, which also details their notorious day out in Newcastle, which saw Bullard suspended for two weeks, but Chopra merely fined. The logic, says Bullard, was that Jewell needed Chopra at the club to keep an eye on him – otherwise he’d be down the bookies.
The end of Bullard's town career came late in summer 2011, when, after playing in a handful of pre-season friendlies (including on one occasion versus Southend, virtually having to beg Chris Hutchings to put him on from the subs bench), he was called into Jewell’s office and told he would not play a part in the first team in the coming season and was being released.
By the end, says Bullard, Jewell (who had previously been a popular manager with the players) had "changed a bit" - "Ipswich wasn't plain sailing... So we all saw a darker, harsher side to him. If we'd lost and he was angry with you, he'd let you know about it."
Bullard's memories of Portman Road are clearly positive though, describing it as a "fantastic club", the fans as “brilliant" (he clearly loved his “curly hair too” chant), and that "Marcus Evans as a top man too".
Overall, Bullard comes across as an extremely likeable fella in this thoroughly enjoyable, very readable book.
He is the kind of bloke we'd all warm to in the pub initially (although might become a bit overbearing in time), who clearly loves his football, likes nothing more than playing the game (and golf, darts, in fact any sport he can get involved in) and can't quite believe he became a Premiership footballer, with an England call-up to his name.
For all of that, he gets my utmost respect – and a resounding recommendation for Bend It Like Bullard, for anyone looking for a decent holiday read this summer. As Jimmy might very well put it himself, it's a belting read.
You can buy Bend it Like Bullard here.
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